In the film Secretary Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is released from a mental institution. It seems that Lee has a nasty habit of cutting herself on purpose with any number of sharp instruments. She returns to the bosom of her dysfunctional family–alcoholic dad and abused mum just in time for her sister’s wedding. In a gigantic attempt to improve her life, she attends secretarial school, and armed with her new diploma, she applies for a job at the law offices of E.Edward Grey (James Spader). After a series of rather inappropriate questions, Grey employs Lee on the spot. It’s clear that he’s intrigued with her–although he disguises it well. A bizarre sado-masochistic relationship begins to develop between the two, and Lee’s rather odd boyfriend–who is recovering from a nervous breakdown of his own–remains ignorant of the competing relationship.
James Spader has perfected sexual torment to a fine degree, and he delivered a wonderful performance. He was convincing as the sadist who is ashamed of his dark urges, but Lee is so submissive that he can’t help exploiting his position as the employer. And so Lee gets many a spanking for typos, and things progress from there. Maggie Gyllenhaal really is impressive in this–her first–role. She plays Lee as a naive, gentle, and vunerable pupil for Grey’s discipline. Grey’s office–which resembled an erotic boudoir in a brothel–really added to the atmosphere of imminent seduction. There is terrific chemistry between the two, and I found myself looking forward to their next encounter with glee.
However, while the comic overtone of the film was very enjoyable, these nagging little doubts were at the back of my mind. This was not a funny situation, and I couldn’t forget that Lee is supposed to have JUST been released from a mental institution. The implication, to me at least, is that she was released into the big bad world only to fall in the naughty spanking hands of her employer. Due to her vunerable mental state, there are ramifications of exploitation and victimization here that were not explored at all in the film. From director Steven Shainberg.